My Big Fat Greek Pizza

If this were a normal year, the Greek Orthodox church in our city would not have had a long line of cars snaking around it this past weekend, with drivers waiting to purchase prepared food in white Styrofoam take-out boxes. It would not have been nearly so quiet, and it would not have been the impersonal experience my husband, Les, had when he picked up our Saturday night meal. The string of taillights ahead of him and the line of vehicles in his rear-view mirror were a stark contrast to a “normal” mid-May visit to the church’s annual fundraiser.

The Greek Festival should have been a noisy, three-day celebration for all ages, packed with singing, music, dancing, eating, drinking and intermittent yells of, “Opa!!!!” There would be authentic heritage costumes and colorful art for sale and scheduled history lessons inside the Orthodox Church sanctuary. But this has not been a normal year, nor was it last year, when the Greek Festival was cancelled altogether for safety reasons. This year, at least, the church gave it a go by offering drive-through pickup of its most popular food items—some prepared and some frozen. Sadly, the take-out box did not do my hot meal any favors, but I have higher hopes for the spanakopita we tossed into the freezer.

The food is one of the things I usually love most about the Greek Festival, and you can bet I will be there next year when things (hopefully) look more normal. The flavors of the Greek culture are so bold and fresh, and I cannot resist applying them to foods that don’t necessarily speak Greek, including this inspired pizza.

This pie has all my favorite Greek flavors in one bite!

Les and I enjoyed this one a couple of months ago, and I am finally sharing it here on Comfort du Jour. We have a regular tradition of Friday night pizza at our house, and though we do enjoy a classic Italian sausage or pepperoni pie, you know I also love to twist them up with other flavors. Visit the Pizza Party page for a quick review if you are looking for some new topping ideas.

For this tantalizing “Big Fat Greek Pizza,” I started with my own N.Y.-style pizza dough and a simple tomato sauce base, the same as I would use on a traditional Italian pie. Next, I crisped-up bits of “Greek God” sausage, an offering of one of our local butcher counters. The sausage is full of bright herbal flavors—oregano, basil, garlic and rosemary—and I had been imagining it on a pizza for quite some time, though I’m quite sure this pizza would be just as good with no meat. I piled on spinach, red onions, Kalamatas, fresh cherry tomatoes and a whole bunch of feta, and that should have been “Greek” enough. But my favorite part was the dollops of cool cucumber-garlic tzatziki that went into place after the pizza emerged from the oven. The combination of all these ingredients was like a flavor explosion, giving me my very own Greek festival, all in one delicious bite.

Opa!!!


Ingredients

Tzatziki:

1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt, stirred

2 Tbsp. half and half

1/4 cup diced cucumber, seeded and patted dry

1 or 2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 Tbsp. fresh dill leaves, chopped (chop some extra for sprinkling over the finished pizza)

Combine ingredients and keep refrigerated until ready to serve pizza.

Pizza:

1 ball pizza dough (here’s a link for My Real N.Y. Pizza Dough*, if you’d like to try it)

About 1/4 cup pizza sauce or fresh tomato sauce

A few shakes of grated parm-romano blend

1/2 cup shredded firm mozzarella

1 link cooked and sliced Greek God sausage* or similar product (see notes)

1/2 medium red onion, sliced

1 fat handful baby spinach leaves

Handful of pitted Kalamata olives*, roughly chopped

6 or 7 cherry or grape tomatoes, washed and halved

3/4 cup fresh feta, crumbled*

Additional chopped fresh dill, for serving


*Notes

If you decide to try my version of N.Y. pizza dough, note that it takes a few days’ time in the fridge, so plan accordingly. This recipe is intended for a thin-crust pizza, and my heating and bake time instructions are specific to baking on a pizza steel or stone. If you prefer to bake on a pan or at lower temperature, adjust your baking time to your preferred method.

The “Greek God” sausage I used for this pizza is a specialty product from a specific local grocery. It is a fresh pork sausage, seasoned with basil, oregano, garlic and rosemary, and we cooked (actually, smoked) it prior to using it. Any mild pork, chicken or turkey sausage would make a fine substitute, or you could easily omit the sausage altogether. The other flavors on this pizza are more than enough to elevate your happy.

Kalamata olives are specifically grown in the Kalamata region of Greece, and they are not the same as inexpensive, canned “black” olives. They are more oblong than round, and they are usually packed in a briny liquid with wine or olive oil. It’s easy to find them in jars or on specialty olive bars, if your supermarket has one. They can be a little pricey, but as far as I’m concerned, they are worth their weight in gold. Be sure to select pitted olives for this recipe, unless you find it exciting to crack a tooth.

I prefer to use fresh blocks of feta, as it has better flavor and texture than most crumbled feta. If the feta block is packed in brine, be sure to pat it dry with paper towels before crumbling, to minimize excess moisture.


Instructions


  1. Preheat pizza steel for one hour at 550° F, or the recommended temperature for your pizza stone, with oven rack about 8 inches from the top heat element. If using a metal pan, place rack in lower third of oven.
  2. Prepare toppings: sauté red onion just until softened, then sauté spinach until wilted. Transfer both to a dish to cool.
  3. Shape pizza dough into a 14-inch round and transfer to a floured pizza peel that is dusted with cornmeal (or place on a greased pizza pan). Brush or spray dough with olive oil, and season with kosher salt and a few twists of black pepper.
  4. Spread tomato sauce evenly over the dough, all but 1 inch around edge.
  5. Distribute the shredded mozzarella, then the cut-up, cooked sausage pieces (if using), onions and spinach, Kalamatas, tomatoes and feta cheese.
  6. Transfer pizza to preheated steel or stone, and bake for about 7 minutes, until crust is golden brown and toppings are bubbling.
  7. Arrange small dollops of tzatziki sauce over pizza, sprinkle with remaining dill leaves.

Interested in more delicious, Greek-inspired recipes?


Handmade Lemon-herb Pasta

March was National Flour Month, and I’m finally catching up on paying respect to the many ways flour feeds us, beyond the obvious (bread). My first attempts at making handmade pasta 10 years ago were outright disastrous, mostly because I had assumed the method of stirring eggs by fork into a mountain-like peak of all-purpose flour was going to be easy. In my defense, the shows I had watched on Food Network made it seem easy, but in real life, it was a humongous freaking mess that left me cussing up a storm and vowing that I’d “never make that again.” Truth is, it is those really frustrating failures that inspire me the most to give it another go, and I’m so glad I did!

In my later efforts, I enjoyed more success, letting my KitchenAid do the mixing, but there was always something about the handmade pasta that didn’t sit right with me, even after I had invested in a “Made in Italy” hand-crank pasta roller. The dough always seemed heavy or thick, even on the thin roller setting. It fell apart or crumbled, or stuck to the roller or cutting blades. But a few years ago, I found the perfect, James Beard Foundation-approved recipe that fixed all the problems I had encountered. My issue was not only how I was making the dough or rolling the pasta, but also the ratio of ingredients I was using. To that point, I had been using only all-purpose flour and whole eggs (yolks and whites). I had no idea what temperature was best for my ingredients, nor did I fully understand how long to knead the dough or whether it needed to be rested.

I cringe when I see this old photo. Besides all the background junk in my tiny, post-divorce apartment kitchen, the ragged edges on my pasta sheet reveal how much I had yet to learn! 🙂

The better recipe, and the one I use to this day, takes advantage of a special variety of wheat called durum, which is used to make semolina flour, the gold standard in authentic Italian pasta recipes. Semolina lends a warm, slightly nutty flavor, a light yellowish color and a firmer, more toothsome texture. It has been a game changer in my journey to making handmade pasta.

The other big difference was a shift in liquid ingredients in my formula. Rather than using whole eggs, the recipe that has become my standard requires separation of the eggs, using only the yolks, plus an amount of water. Once I found this easy formula, the flavor possibilities became near-endless. And that’s where the real fun of making handmade pasta begins! Being creative with the colors, flavors and shapes of handmade pasta is one of the things that gives me—a home cook—a very satisfying sense of accomplishment.

I won’t claim that handmade pasta is “easy,” because I still feel the ego bruises from my early attempts, but I will say that if you are already making handmade pasta, go on and experiment with the flavors until you find something amazing. New flavors make their way into the mix either in the liquid, perhaps by using finely pureed vegetables as part of the water measurement, or by way of dry add-ins, as I am sharing in today’s post. And if you’re still on the fence about trying handmade pasta, I hope my adventure inspires you!

This recipe has helped me use some of the abundance of fresh herbs I’ve had since my husband, Les, gifted me the countertop hydroponic herb garden that keeps throwing parsley at me. The lemon, parsley and basil combination is terrific and perfect for spring, but you could just as easily flavor your pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, roasted red peppers or—well, you can imagine your own (and I do hope you’ll share those fabulous ideas).

Making your own pasta is so much fun. I hope you’ll try it!

Adapted from
Semolina Pasta Dough Recipe | James Beard Foundation

Ingredients

8 oz. semolina flour (plus extra for rolling pasta dough)

4 oz. unbleached, all-purpose flour* (see notes)

2 oz. white whole wheat flour*

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 cup filtered water, room temperature*

2 egg yolks, room temperature*

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (mine is whole lemon-fused for bright lemon flavor)

Zest of one organic lemon* (only the bright yellow peel)

2 Tbsp. very finely minced fresh herbs (I used a combination of Italian parsley and Genovese basil)


*Notes

All-purpose flour is easy to find, but “00” flour is better if you can get your hands on it. The double-zero flour is milled to a very fine texture, and its use results in tender, silky pasta. I have seen it in well-stocked larger supermarkets, gourmet shops and online. I also use some portion of whole grain flour in my pasta dough, but if you prefer, skip the white whole wheat and make up the difference with equal amount of additional all-purpose or 00 flour.

As with bread dough, I have found that hydration of flour for pasta dough is much improved with room temperature or slightly warm water. Cold water makes for very stiff dough that is tougher to knead.

Eggs are more easily separated when cold, but once this is done, cover the bowl of yolks and let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before you begin mixing the pasta dough.

Most of the time, conventionally-grown citrus is fine. But when you intend to eat any part of the peel, it’s best to choose organic to avoid chemical pesticides.


Instructions – making the dough

  1. Zest the lemon and mince the herbs first, and spread them out on a cutting board so that the add-in ingredients dry out a bit.
  2. Combine flours, salt, lemon zest and lightly dried herbs in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  3. Combine egg yolks and water in a separate bowl and whisk them together until the mixture is light and frothy.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour the wet ingredients into the center and use the dough hook to do the blending. Though it might seem logical to mix with the beater blade, using the dough hook completes the blending from the center-out, in the same way as the chefs using only a fork to gradually mix the eggs into the flour. Allow the mixer to do this work for you, until the dough mixture is combined but crumbly, and no dry flour remains in the bowl. Add more water, one tablespoon at a time, if needed to achieve this stage.
  5. Empty the dough onto your work surface, and knead by hand for at least 10 minutes, probably more like 15 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic, with no creases or cracks or lumps. If the dough shows any sign of cracking or breaking, wet your hands and continue to knead, repeating as many times as necessary until the smooth texture is achieved.
  6. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough ball at least one hour, or up to overnight. Do not refrigerate more than a day.

Time to make the pasta!

Here’s my work station for rolling pasta dough. My machine is clamped onto the edge of the counter, my cookie sheet and drying rack are ready, and my chilled dough is resting at room temperature.

Remove the pasta dough from the fridge (still wrapped) about 30 minutes before you plan to roll it, to remove some of the chill. Set up your pasta rolling machine, and keep fresh semolina out to aid in rolling and to prevent the dough from sticking. Have a parchment-lined cookie sheet within reach, and set up your drying rack if you’re using one.

Instructions – rolling the pasta

  1. Unwrap the pasta dough and use a bench scraper or sharp knife to slice off sections of dough about one inch thick. Keep remaining dough tightly wrapped until ready to roll, so it doesn’t dry out.
  2. Flatten a piece of dough into an oval-shaped disk, then roll it through the pasta machine on the thickest setting. For the first few passes, fold the pressed dough in half and run it through again on the same setting. Fold it in thirds, as you would fold up a letter, and turn the dough 90° so that it runs through the machine at a different angle. This helps to reduce curling or bending when the pasta dries later. When the dough feels supple after running through the press several times, begin reducing to thinner setting with each pass.
  3. When the dough reaches the desired thickness (either the thinnest or next-to-thinnest setting, allow the sheet to dry slightly before cutting into strips or using as ravioli. In my experience with pasta, the cutting and shaping stage seems to work better when the pasta is not super-soft. If you rush directly to cutting it, at least with a machine, the dough tends to stick in the rollers, and it will definitely stick to a ravioli mold.
  4. After pasta sheets are complete, allow them to rest for a couple of minutes before cutting, either with the pasta machine or by hand with a fluted pasta trimmer, pizza slicer or sharp knife. If cutting by hand, the simplest way is to fold the pasta sheet crosswise multiple times, and slice through the layers with a pizza wheel or sharp knife. Dust the pasta really well with extra semolina flour before cutting to minimize sticking.

This time, I’ve opted to use the cutter attachment for my pasta roller to fashion my lemon-herb pasta into fettucine strips, but this lemony pasta would also be terrific for making sweet crab-stuffed ravioli, or ricotta-filled tortellini. I will save those for another day. 🙂

We used the lemon-herb pasta in a couple of ways—first, with littleneck clams in white wine broth, and again as a base for an amazing dish of chicken thighs in vodka sauce that Les made for us.



Dilly-Dilly, Double-Heat Potato Salad

There is a common thread that runs through the culinary fabric of the U.S. South. And that thread, in a word, is sweet. Whether it’s beverages, desserts, BBQ sauces or even potato salad, the foods you find on a southern menu will surely satisfy your sweet tooth. That’s a bit of a challenge for people like me, who prefer more savory flavors. In a salad, I want freshness, with tangy, herbal and briny flavors.

When I spotted an online recipe for potato salad with dill and horseradish recently, I got excited about the brightness of flavors and especially the absence of sugar. I found inspiration in that recipe, so I made it (with my own tweaks, of course), and my husband and I enjoyed it so much I’ve made another batch and it will make its way into our recipe rotation. Me being me, though, and always pushing the envelope on flavors, I’ve adjusted it yet again. This time, I doubled down on the dill, adding chopped dill pickles to the original idea of fresh chopped dill. I heaped jalapeno heat on top of the horseradish and crowned the finished salad with chopped hard-boiled egg. Oh, happy Spring! 🙂

This salad is fresh, bright, herbal and zesty!

Best of all, for me, is that there is no sugar in sight. The salad is very dill-forward, and that freshness makes me eager for all the other light foods on the way for Spring. The heat, though doubled, is subtle in the background. The yogurt (or sour cream, if you prefer) contributes a creaminess that isn’t all mayonnaise. And the capers and chopped egg provide a little something extra, as a salad you might expect to find in a good delicatessen.

The result is this dilly-dilly, double heat potato salad, delicious as a cool, savory side to sandwiches, hot foods off the grill or anything you might be serving as a casual meal for Passover or Easter.


Adapted from The Spruce Eats: Dill and Horseradish Potato Salad

Ingredients

About 3 pounds waxy potatoes, peeled* (see notes)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream

1/3 cup chopped dill pickles*

1/4 cup minced red onion or shallots

2 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped*

2 Tbsp. pickled jalapenos, chopped*

2 Tbsp. prepared horseradish

1 Tbsp. capers

Salt and pepper to taste

2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped (for garnish)


*Notes

The best potatoes for this recipe are those that do not fall apart too easily. Red, yellow or white potatoes are all good options. Russets, not so much. Their starchy fluffiness makes them more prone to mashing.

If you do prefer a slightly sweet flavor, substitute bread and butter pickles for the dills. The dill flavor will still be present, but the sweetness will help to soften the savory edges of this salad.

This is the right time of year to find fresh dill in the supermarket, but if you do not have access to it, substitute dried dill leaves, but only about a teaspoon. Remember that dried herbs are much more potent than fresh.

Can’t stand the jalapeno heat? I promise it is subtle, but if you don’t want or like jalapenos, leave them out. This is my recipe, but you are always in charge of the decisions in your own kitchen, so make it the way you like. Want it hotter? Well, now you sound like my husband. Go ahead, add more. 😊


Instructions

This is one of the simplest recipes, but I’ll share the steps in pictures anyway. Keep scrolling for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.

  1. Cut up the potatoes into large, “three-bite” size. Boil gently until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Drain them and cool completely before cutting them into smaller pieces. If you wish, cook them a day ahead and refrigerate overnight. Cut the cooked potatoes into cubes about the size of croutons.
  2. Combine all remaining ingredients, except eggs, in a large bowl, seasoning the dressing with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Fold the cut-up potatoes into the dressing. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours.
  4. Serve with chopped hard-boiled eggs scattered on top of the salad.

Want to make it?


Green Goddess Dressing

Don’t be surprised to see a lot of late winter recipes showing up here with highlights of fresh summer herbs. No, I haven’t lost track of the seasons (not possible with all the bad weather news everywhere). It’s more a situation of appreciating the Christmas gift that keeps on giving.

My husband, Les, undoubtedly tired of my chronic lament over the deer having eaten my summer garden, gifted me this year with an AeroGarden. It’s a hydroponic, countertop device with individual seed pods for growing whatever your heart desires (or, at least, whatever is legal in your state). Knowing my love of using fresh herbs in the kitchen, Les opted for the herbal variety pack, which included two basil varieties, chives, mint, thyme and two kinds of parsley.

At first, the thing just sort of sat on the table by the kitchen window, blazing its bright blue light across the kitchen for 15 hours a day. The thing comes on by itself at 5:00 a.m., waking the pets, who then wander in to wake us, because they know it must be almost time to eat. It took me a couple weeks to adjust to this new growing schedule, about the same time that tiny sprouts emerged, first from the Genovese basil. It has been fun to watch our little herb babies grow. 🙂


What began as a fun “let’s see what happens” Christmas gift has turned into a “holy moly, what are we gonna do with all this parsley” adventure. By Valentine’s weekend, I realized I needed to do something with the parsley before it consumed the kitchen, as my outdoor basil did last summer in the backyard garden. Les had asked for simple embellishments to our romantic dinner of lobster tails, including roasted asparagus and a Caesar salad (his fave).

“How do you feel about green goddess dressing,” I asked. And so it was.

Green goddess is a throwback food, originally created in the early 1920s at a San Francisco restaurant, and at that time the dressing included mayonnaise, chives, scallions, parsley, garlic, anchovies and tarragon vinegar. By the late ‘40s, The New York Times published a recipe for it, and it hit the grocery shelves in bottled form about 1973. Thank you, Wikipedia, for all that helpful information.

Like any other recipe, green goddess can be switched up to match your flavor (and consistency) preferences. If you want to use it as a dip, ease up on the buttermilk and add more mayo. Hate basil? Leave it out and use extra parsley. If you are gaga for garlic, double it—or roast it for milder flavor. I went rogue a little bit and added a small handful of baby spinach leaves to this version (hey, they’re green), and I love a recipe that is so flexible. The dressing seems to me a mash-up of ranch and Caesar, but with a bounty of freshness to punch up the flavor and, thankfully, a perfect vehicle for freshly picked herbs.

I’ve made my own salad dressing for years, and this was my first green goddess but definitely not my last. Obviously!


Ingredients

1/4 cup thick cultured buttermilk

Small handful of fresh basil leaves

Small handful of curly or flat parsley leaves

Several stems of fresh chives

2 scallions (white and green parts), trimmed

2 cloves fresh garlic

4 to 6 fillets of anchovy, to taste* (see notes)

2 tsp. prepared Dijon mustard

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup whole milk Greek yogurt

Small handful fresh baby spinach leaves (optional)

1 to 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


*Notes

Remember that anchovies are fairly salty on their own, and you may or may not want additional salt in the mix. If you prefer to omit the anchovies, consider substituting a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce to add a similar punch.


Instructions


  1. In the small insert bowl of a food processor, combine herbs, scallions, Dijon, salt and pepper, anchovies and lemon juice. Pulse several times to chop herbs into somewhat uniform mixture.
  2. Add mayonnaise and Greek yogurt and pulse about 8 times. Give it a taste and adjust seasonings or ingredients as desired, pulsing to incorporate additions.
  3. Turn processor on steady and slowly drizzle olive oil into the dressing. Transfer dressing to a bowl and chill several hours or overnight.
Great as a dressing for crisp salad, or dipping sauce for fresh cut veggies!

Want to make this dressing?


Sourdough Potato Bread with Onion & Dill

The joy of baking homemade bread, for me, is second only to the bliss of eating it. Or is it the other way around? When I established my sourdough culture in early 2016, I wasn’t sure how successful the adventure would be or if I would tire of eating “only” sourdough. As I’ve declared here several times, though, sourdough is not exclusively a flavor of bread, but a method of giving rise to the dough, and I rarely use commercial yeast in any form of bread anymore—whether it’s pizza dough, English muffins, waffles, soft pita breads, challah or focaccia. For me, there’s no turning back, and I cannot imagine tiring of it. Sourdough rules!

The potato bread I’m sharing today is my adaptation of a sandwich bread recipe I’ve grown to love by King Arthur Baking Company. KA’s version of this bread uses dry active yeast, but I’ve converted it by conjuring my math skills; I’ve swapped out equal amounts of liquid and flour (by grams, of course) for the appropriate percentage of my ripe-and-ready starter (sourdough nerds understand me). The result is terrific on its own, but I’ve recently taken the recipe a bit further with the addition of minced onions and a dill swirl and—well, wow.

The dill swirl lends a nice touch to your favorite sandwiches. My hubby especially loves it with his tuna salad and a fresh leaf of lettuce.

The recipe itself is unusual, in that the mixed dough does not have an initial rise at room temperature; it moves directly to the refrigerator for cold overnight fermentation. It’s very sticky dough that is not easily kneaded, so I recommend use of a stand mixer if you have one. After chilling overnight, the cold dough is easier to handle and shape into a loaf to proof at warm room temperature until it’s ready to bake. Words don’t adequately describe the aroma that wafts from the oven.

The cooked Yukon gold potato and softened butter lend a soft texture and lovely gold color, and the onion and dill I’ve added make it a great choice for all kinds of sandwiches. My hubby declared a few mornings ago that this sourdough potato bread may be his favorite bread ever for breakfast toast. Of course, he has said that about my soft sourdough rye, too (I’ll share that one soon).

My ingredients are measured by weight, because that’s how I bake. I highly recommend a digital scale for consistent results in any kind of baking, but especially for bread. If you’re not ready to get on the sourdough train, you can still enjoy this bread. Follow the original instructions offered by King Arthur, but halve the ingredients, as KA’s recipe makes two loaves. The onion and dill flavors are my own Comfort du Jour twist.


Adapted from King Arthur Baking Company
Makes one loaf

Ingredients

1 large Yukon gold potato, peeled and cut into large chunks (boil and mash the potato, then measure out 100g for use in this recipe)

100g ripe sourdough starter (fed 8 to10 hours earlier; my starter is 100% hydration)

100g lukewarm water* (include the potato cooking water in this total)

40g (about 3 tablespoons) sugar

260g unbleached all-purpose flour*

80g white whole wheat flour*

1 large egg (room temperature)

1 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened to room temperature.

2 Tbsp. dried minced onion, rehydrated 15 minutes in 2 Tbsp. warm water (optional)

2 tsp. dried dill leaves (or 2 Tbsp. fresh dill if you have it)


*Notes

Reserve the water used in cooking the potato, and add more water to total the amount needed for the recipe. The potato starch in the cooking water will add to the fine texture of the bread.

The original KA recipe calls for only all-purpose flour, but I always swap in at least some amount of whole grain flour. Make it as you like, but don’t swap more than 25% of the total flour without also adjusting the ratio of liquid. My swap is within that suggested limit, and it works great.


Instructions – Day One


  1. Combine all ingredients, except butter and dill, in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed until ingredients come together and form a shaggy ball on the beater blade, and all flour is incorporated. Scrape dough from beater blade. Cover and allow dough to rest 20 minutes.
  2. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough on low speed for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the pieces of softened butter, one or two at a time, and mix on speed 2 until each addition of butter is worked into the dough. Continue to knead at this speed for about six more minutes. The dough will be very soft and sticky.
  4. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap or elastic cover and transfer immediately to the refrigerator at least overnight or up to 24 hours.

On Baking Day


  1. Lightly spray a clean countertop (and a 9 x 4” bread pan) with olive oil spray. Remove the refrigerated dough to the counter and use your fingers to spread it out into a rectangle shape, about 6 x 18”. Sprinkle the dough with the dill leaves.
  2. Beginning at one of the short ends, roll the dough up tightly, tucking in the ends as you go to keep the dough in a smooth cylinder shape. Use a bench scraper if needed to release the sticky dough from the counter. When you get to the end, pinch the seam closed. Tuck the ends as needed to fit the dough into the greased bread pan. Cover with plastic wrap or elastic “shower cap” cover and proof at warm room temperature until the dough rises above the top of the pan.  This may take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, depending on the strength of your starter and the temperature of the room.
  3. Near the end of rising time, preheat oven to 350° F, with baking rack in center position.
  4. Remove plastic wrap from pan and gently transfer the loaf to the oven. At this point, the dough may appear “jiggly;” you don’t want to cause it to collapse, so try not to jostle it too much. Bake at 350 for a total of 45 to 50 minutes, turning halfway through baking time to ensure even browning. At the halfway point, cover the loaf loosely with a foil tent to prevent over-browning. Bread is fully baked when it reaches 190° internal temperature. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn it out onto a cooling rack. You may need to run a clean knife or plastic scraper along the edges of the bread for easier release. Cool at least two hours before cutting, and completely (this may mean overnight) before wrapping it up in a plastic bag.  
The dill makes a pretty swirl in this loaf, but you could easily substitute another favorite dried herb.

Want to make this bread?


First Fruits

Last week, when I came home from a weekly grocery run, I stepped warily toward the garden at the end of the driveway. I’m accustomed to feeling like a lousy farmer thanks to the herd of deer in our woods. With a sigh on my lips, I lifted back the giant leaves drooping from our squash and zucchini plants, anticipating root rot or squash bug infestation or something equally disgusting and disheartening.

Gasp—there’s life in there! Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

Truly, nobody is more surprised than I am to find that our pitiful little raised bed is displaying its first fruits. Remember the carnage I found recently, in discovering that our eggplant and pepper plants had their tops chomped off? But as Jeff Goldblum’s character said in the original Jurassic Park film, “life finds a way,” and it seems to be true in our side yard. Hallelujah!

In addition to the first beautiful zucchini, which I almost left to grow another day (nope—I’ve learned my lesson there), we have lots of basil and a whole bunch of yellow squash blossoms. In past years, I mistakenly assumed that loads of blossoms would mean as many actual fruit. But unlike the reality of our “gender lesson” in bell peppers a few weeks ago, squash blossoms do present either male or female, and most of these will not be producing squash babies.

Most of these blossoms are male, meaning they will not yield a squash plant.

The male flowers are still important, naturally, for their role in pollination of the female blossoms. The hardworking bees, which have taken up residence in the nearby wildflower garden (you know what they say—location, location, location), will be blossom-hopping for the next few weeks to do just that. I hope we continue to see fruit on these plants, and now that I know they’re producing, I’ll be watching the undersides of the leaves to protect against squash bugs. I love zucchini and squash in absolutely every form, and I have a new spiralizer tool I’m eager to try, so I’m crossing my fingers.

And the basil—holy wow, the basil is growing like crazy but is in need of my immediate attention or I may lose the whole lot of it. If you haven’t grown your own, or maybe you have but with varying degrees of success, I’ll be happy to share what I’ve learned about properly tending to these fragrant summer herbs. When they start to show these little clusters on the ends of the stems, they’re getting ready to go to seed (or “bolt”), and that would be a disappointing end to my pesto goals because once it goes to seed, the basil leaves lose their full flavor and take on a bitterness that is most unpleasant.

This is a sign that my basil plant is getting ready to “bolt.” It’s time to prune!

A few years ago, a Pinterest post led me through a  simple basil pruning technique which made a world of difference in my herb gardening. The basil needs to be “pinched back.” Removal of those little clusters before they begin to flower will send a message to the basil that there’s more growing to do, and if you keep at it, the plant will continue to become bushier until you almost literally have basil coming out your ears. In my case, it might also help protect the other surviving plants in my garden because deer allegedly cannot stand the smell of basil. Here’s hoping!

It’s easy to do—get up close to the cluster and look for a point along the stem below it where twin leaves are positioned across from each other. Just above those twin leaves, pinch off the stem. That’s all there is to it. I usually take a kitchen scissors out to the garden with me and snip them rather than pinching. It goes faster, makes a cleaner cut and doesn’t leave my hands smelling like strong basil. The stems you snip will stop growing, leaving room for new stems to form from the twin leaves. Where there used to be one stem, there will soon be two.

As you go, the basil will require more frequent pruning because stems will multiply. But if there’s a big jar of fresh pesto at the end of it, I’m in! The plant may grow upward somewhat, but mostly you will see a bushy formation, and each time I prune, I’ll have plenty to use along the way to pesto heaven.

I’m going to find a simple way to use these in the kitchen.

It’s been an exciting day in the garden, and I’m going to whip up something delicious with my first fruit haul. I’ll show you in a day or two what I came up with.

Oh, happy day!